If you want to accomplish something small, say, like, brokering world peace, or creating lasting happiness for all; or you want to attempt something major like making it through the morning routine without drama over how the five-year-old wears her hair (maybe that’s just me) — compassion is the key.
I think it is the single most powerful and practical action we can take each day to make good things happen in our lives and the in the lives of others around the planet.
Seriously. If all the people of the world felt supported, validated, listened too, respected; if all of us had someone in our corner to ease our pain and suffering when we’re sure we can’t take it another minute – the collective temperament on this planet would experience a positive shift in measurable ways.
But, forget about global shift for now, compassion starts with a grass roots effort. Before you can change the world, you’ve got to make sure you are taking care of your own stuff in your own house and with the people that enter your life every day.
This is no small thing. When you act compassionately at home, or in your community those good feelings spread – like a virus. This affect is called emotional contagion. It means that we spread and absorb the moods of others. When you feel good about helping someone else –another by-product of compassion –that goodness is going to rub off on everyone you meet.
What is compassion?
Compassion shows up as kindness. It looks like support, empathy, concern. When you are compassionate you’re aware of the distress of another and you work to alleviate or ease her suffering.
- You take a meal to the friend struggling through chemotherapy.
- You offer a kind word to the bus driver so often belittled by others.
- You slow down long enough to listen, without interruption (!) to your husband talk about the stresses of his day.
See, this isn’t hard stuff. Yet, many of us stumble over it. We get focused on our own situation, our own needs and forget to become aware of the experience of others. Before you can act compassionately, you must first notice what the other person is experiencing. You must see their pain.
Cut the judgment
Then, you’ve got to reach out without judgment. This is the sticking point for many. We are in the habit of judging others. With compassion, there is no room for judgment. Your opinion does not matter. Your reservations are irrelevant. Your criticisms unnecessary. Your disdain pointless. You may not agree with the conditions that led the other individual into such heartache, but now, that is simply none of your business.
When you offer compassion, you don’t belittle or take the “I-told-you-so” approach before pitching in. You simply step up, into the pain with another individual, and you find a way to ease it just a little bit.
It’s a simple principle and if practiced you will also experience greater health and well-being. Studies show that people who frequently express compassion live longer, suffer fewer health issues and report higher levels of happiness. So, you’ll feel good when you do the right thing AND you’ll help someone else feel better. What’s not to love?
But to make this work, you’ve got to create a habit around compassion so that your compassionate behavior becomes automatic; a way of being in the world.
Wednesday’s post will tell you how.